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Berserk Season 1 Blu-ray Anime Review

9 min read

This property deserved so much better.

What They Say:
Peer into the dark once more—the Black Swordsman roars again! Branded for death and hunted by demons forevermore, Guts embarks on a journey to escape his fate and get his revenge on the man he once considered a friend. With his monstrous blade, Dragonslayer, he and a band of unlikely allies will face danger unlike any they’ve ever experienced before. The answers he seeks lie shrouded in the night.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo and, surprisingly, the English language dub as well instead of a 5.1 mix like we usually get. Both tracks are done up in the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec and come across in a solidly clean and clear way, especially with some of the better impact sections of the show with the fights and the clang of metal. The series works a lot of action overall and the sound design brings in some good elements from that as mentioned as well as aspects like the sound of horses hooves, the doors, and the creepy side with the more demonic elements. It’s standard in its stereo form overall but it’s got just enough impact to stand out on a good setup so that it enhances the show itself. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout with some good placement at times and a touch of depth as needed in a few scenes as well.

Originally airing in 2016, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. Animated by Liden Films in working with GEMBA and Millepensee, the show has a… distinctive look, to put it politely. While I enjoyed the recent CG films that were done, the TV series is not working with that budget and it shows as this is far more reminiscent of CG work from the 90’s in some ways with its shading and line work. The encoding for it has to work a bit harder with it because of how busy it gets at times and it holds up very well with it being clean throughout and having a very solid feeling throughout the copious amounts of solid black material that it has. The other colors look good with solid fields and smooth animation in that it doesn’t break up during the high motion sequences.

The packaging for this release comes in a slightly thicker than standard case size with an o-card slipcover that largely replicates the same artwork. The o-card gives us the key visual illustration of Guts swinging his massive sword with the supernatural side moving around within the frame, disappearing into the darker side of the background. There’s a good black framing to this that gives it a bit more weight and I like how much the red stands out in the logo for it. The back cover works a black background wraparound with a few nice shots from the show to the right while the left breaks down the premise. The episode count and extras are also clearly listed while the technical grid along the bottom breaks out both formats in a clean and easy to read and accurate way. While there are no show related inserts with the release, we do get a reversible cover where the main art side showcases Guts going up against the big bad of the end of the season in illustrated form.

The menu design for this release works better than I would have expected as it does largely play clip material but does it up in black and white to give it a little more “gravitas” than it might have otherwise. With the red logo along the center top section, it draws the eye there nice enough and the clips provide a lot of motion to keep it all moving. The navigation along the bottom is simple and straightforward with a touch of a thematic font but is otherwise fairly standard. Submenus are quick and easy to load both as a main menu and as a pop-up menu during regular playback.

The extras for this release are pretty basic as we get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences as well as the promotional video material from Japan.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I love Berserk.

The original TV series from the 90’s is one that I just adored and even imported the Japanese DVD releases of because I wanted a high-quality at the time release, even without subtitles. The property is based on the manga by Kentaro Miura, which is being produced in a slow fashion in Japan to the point where the US releases caught up a while ago. The first series made a huge impression on me back in the day for a genre I typically don’t care much for with all the violence, and the obvious near torture porn at the end (which plays out even more graphically here in this series), so I was hugely excited that we were getting a continuation after seeing some of the manga adapted into a film trilogy a few years prior to this. Sadly, this series got the worst kind of treatment in terms of design and animation with Liden Films organizing it. I’ve enjoyed several of their CG works but Berserk just doesn’t work with it – though I’ll be more than honest enough to say that by the halfway mark of marathoning the set I noticed it less and less simply because of the exposure to it. But make no mistake, the quality of the animation, or lack thereof, is what’s a huge negative on the show that it simply cannot escape from. I just don’t want to spend the whole review talking about it.

With a simple nod mixed into the first episode about what happened in the past, mostly with the final installments of the previous series with the festival that changed everything to darkness for this world, this season of Berserk moves the story forward. Which is good as I really didn’t want yet another remake after the film series. What we get here isn’t exactly accessible for new fans as we’re largely following the Black Swordsman named Guts who is searching for Casca, the love of his life that was taken from him amid the chaos of that festival of darkness. His journey brings him to all sorts of places while trying to find her and due to the branding on his neck made thanks to his deal with the Skull Knight, he knows when other demonic forces are afoot and gets involved as they may have clues toward who he’s looking for. That gives him plenty of reasons to wander in search of Casca and interact with a range of people.

Guts isn’t entirely alone as there’s a fairy named Puck that’s with him, but Puck is mostly contrary or just prods him while doling out some minor bits of help or information along the way. The problem for Guts in his journey for this season is that he ends up having to deal with Farnese of the Holy Chain Iron Knights of Albion that have been seeking him out. He’s certainly got a reputation with what he’s done and it’s amusing to see how he carves through them before they temporarily overpower him. Farnese provides our female lead for the show since Casca is elsewhere under the name Elaine where she’s being viewed as a kind of mindless savior that’s semi-worshipped or some such that never really lands. Farnese is the mostly strong and competent knight type that’s leading a company that’s made up of soldiers that are from noble families and don’t often end up in real combat. Interacting with Guts changes all of that since he’s a lightning rod for the darkness in the world.

This sets a course for disaster with Guts essentially kidnapping Farnese for a bit and hitting the road to survive, which exposes her to the realities of this world that she was blinded to. What becomes interesting over the course of it is that we see, once again, that the human side is just as dangerous and disturbed as the demonic. The church and politicians are craven but some have been so exposed to the demonic side that they’re almost like it – and many that haven’t been exposed are just as bad. One of those is the Bishop Mozgus that has an immensely powerful reputation for having tortured hundreds that went against the church. He knows the evil of the world and embraces it in order to find some structure in the chaos to keep the people in line, which is fairly effective but disturbing as we see during his introduction. He weaves in and out of the season before getting caught up in the main arc at the end that brings a whole lot of the evil to the forefront.

While there are a lot of problematic elements to the show through a lot of this season, and quite honestly a lot of it is owed to the terrible animation that makes these characters ugly and hard to connect with, the final arc is why I like Berserk. The arrival of the Skull Knight raises the hairs on Guts’ neck and the reveal that a new festival is happening already with something else dark coming into this work sends all the right chills. It brings a lot of different characters from this season together that have survived and exposes them to the horrors of the world that Guts exists in as he gets closer and closer to holding Casca close. It goes big in all the right ways with all the violence, but it also lacks the real impact it needs because the animation design simply can’t make it have the same kind of impact. And that just reminds me again and again what a disservice the animation is to the property.

In Summary:
Berserk deserves better. It really does. While I understood why people cringed at the feature films with its style, that at least had a good budget behind it and looked like the good kind of CG animation. This series just can’t make it work because it needs to be filled with emotions that run the gamut – and these designs doesn’t allow that to happen. The end result is a show with sweeping concepts that are working with MS Paint tools and the results are not pretty. Again, you do get used to it to some degree as it goes on because the story is engaging, but it can just as quickly fall apart with certain characters – particularly the women – and when it tries to really make it feel like the action has a significant impact. With the original series still looking strong to this day, this leaves me uncertain as to whether I should be sad or mad about what happened.

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Promos

Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: January 16th, 2018
MSRP: $64.98
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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